For all those who were wondering exactly how long it would take for defensive coordinator Dom Capers' new 3-4 defense to start paying dividends in a real game, you can stop wondering. After raising eyebrows and expectations all preseason, Green Bay picked the ideal time to officially unveil its new, aggressive style. Week 1, under the bright lights of national television and against their bitter rivals, the Chicago Bears.
The Packers blitzed, badgered and hurried new Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for much of the evening. They sacked him twice and he coughed up four interceptions, thank you very much. The Packers dropped two other Cutler passes, or it would have been even uglier.
"It was a rough first half," a subdued Cutler said. "The four turnovers put the defense in the hole. They gave us a chance and we kind of bounced back, but ultimately the turnovers got us in the end."
"The 3-4 defense is great," Collins said with a smile. "It's the defense you always wanted to play. We've made the transition pretty well but we still have to build off this. It's just one stepping stone, but it's a big rivalry game. Those are the games you want to win."
Next, it was Johnny Jolly's turn to play thief. With Cutler directing a second-quarter march deep in Packers territory, he tried what he thought would be a simple dump-off pass to Matt Forte at the 12. He was pressured by Clay Matthews III and never saw Jolly, who grabbed the ball and managed to get his huge frame rumbling for 2 yards before center Olin Kreutz caught him from behind.
"It was a screen," said Jolly of his first career interception. "It was on a little blitz. I was going inside and when I felt it, the tackle kind of tried to throw me. I was trying to react at the same time. I saw the ball coming and tried to make a play. Cutler probably thought I was going to fall and I just tried to reach out and grab it."
On the Bears' next possession, Cutler was under heavy pressure from Brandon Chillar and Cullen Jenkins and fired a deep pass over the middle that was in the general direction of Johnny Knox. Tramon Williams picked off the poorly thrown ball and returned it 67 yards to the Bears' 1-yard line. The big play set up an easy touchdown for Ryan Grant.
"I definitely was thinking touchdown," said a beaming Williams. "Unfortunately, I got stopped at the 1, but the offense was in position to punch it in so they did it. This was the real deal out here. What's more real than Chicago and Green Bay on ‘Sunday Night Football'? We went out there, gave it all we had and we came out on top."
But as Packer-Bear games have gone so many times in their historic past, victories seldom come easily. Even with three interceptions. Even with a heart-stopping, go-ahead, 50-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings with 1:18 left in the game. Cutler had plenty of time for some heroics of his own and a nervous, capacity Lambeau Field crowd knew it.
Enter Al Harris.
On first down from the Bears' 36, Cutler tried to hit Knox with a short pass but Harris stepped in front of Knox, made the pick and rambled 29 yards before Cutler pushed him out of bounds. Game over.
"We won, that's all that matters," Harris said. "Anything besides that, there's really no need to talk about. We won the game and that's what we were trying to do."
Of the four picks and on whether he was trying to score, Harris said: "That's what this defense is designed to do. We go through it in practice in a two-minute situation we go out of bounds. Just get out of bounds, end the game and there it is."
Make no mistake. This was only the first game and the 3-4 defense remains a work in progress. The Bears piled up 352 yards of offense. Of those, 266 came through the air, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester and a 68-yard connection to Knox. Still, the Packers limited standout running back Matt Forte to 55 rushing yards and a 2.2-yard average, and star tight end Greg Olsen caught only one of the six passes thrown his way for just 8 yards.
"It was a tough game and we came away with the win, and that's all that really matters," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "Still, there were too many big plays. A couple of them were on me, playing some bad football and letting them get down the field on some big plays. I feel like everything they got today, we pretty much gave it to ‘em. If we can eliminate those mistakes and big plays, we'll be good."
The Packers gave but they took plenty away from the Bears. That was the difference in this game.